Happy 95th birthday Pa!

Our father Mel Levine would have turned 95 today. Remembering him with this syllabus from an adult ed class he taught in 1953 on “The Elements of Jazz.” He led students through the recorded history of the music to that time (post-Bop, pre-Miles?), and included an “oversimplified” history of jazz at the end with this lovely ending

I think Mel would kleib naches from the audience we have found for his photos of Billie Holiday, and I like to think he would be very proud of my own playing and composing work. I certainly think of him all the time when I’m at the piano.

Yehi zichro baruch. May his memory be a (swinging) blessing.

Remembering Billie and Mel

We grew up with stories from my late father Mel Levine about the many evenings he spent in the jazz clubs of Boston in the 1940s and 50s, hearing the greats and hanging out with the local jazz players. Pa went to Storyville on April 24, 1959 to hear Billie Holiday, taking his camera with him to shoot some photos of the gig. That turned out to be one of her last performances. She died on July 17 of that year in New York.

We discovered some of those photos while cleaning out our parents’ house in Boston after my mom passed away in 2013. I posted those photos on this site soon afterwards.

A few years later, I received an email from Tracy Fessenden, a professor of religious studies at Arizona State University, who was writing a scholarly book about Billie Holiday, and wanted to use one of those photos for the cover art. My brother and I agreed, and we worked with Prof. Fessenden and her publisher to reproduce the image for her book.

That book, Religion Around Billie Holiday, has just been released by Penn State University Press, featuring our father’s photo on the cover. This is truly a fitting memorial for Mel, a lifelong jazz fan with a special love for the music of Billie Holiday. I’m looking forward to reading it.

More photos from the 50s

A few more Boston jazz photos from the 1950’s, discovered in the basement of my parents’ house in Boston, MA

Best wishes for a happy and musical 2014!

Billie Holiday, April 1959

We’re in the process of clearing out my late parents’ house in Boston, and in the process discovered these photos from one of Billie Holiday’s last performances, at Boston’s Storyville club on April 24, 1959. Holiday died less than three months later, on July 17, 1959.

These are scans from B&W prints. The negatives may still turn up…